Sunday, September 20, 2009

Biscayne Bay: end of summer and perigee moon tide

With the neverending storm activities crossing Florida every day, I wasn't sure if I'd get out on the water this weekend. True to form on Sunday morning, the weather radar showed orange and yellow storm activity over Miami and some of the bay. It looked like it was dissipating, so by 6:30 am, we were on the road to Matheson Hammock. The low tide was about 5:30 am, but with the perigee new moon, I didn't know what to expect on the water. What I did expect was to not launch from the usual canoe launching area, which would be completely under water before noon from the incoming tide. The tide differential was going to be almost 3 feet and the strong perigee effect would probably increase that considerably. To avoid finding my car in 2 feet of water, we launched from the canal.

I headed out to the bay via the marina channel only to be confronted by a very large dark storm cloud that was beginning to produce lightening and thunder. The rolling clouds that completely covered the Miami skyline continued heading out across the bay. I decided to paddle back to the canal and stay close to the launch site until I knew what this storm would do. The easterly winds picked up and as I headed back to the canal, I passed a kayak fishermen who continued on into the bay. He was attracted to the cloud scene and I don't blame him, it was amazingly beautiful.

Back at the canal I crossed under the bridge and noted that the water line was about 1 foot from the edge where people often fish, the highest I have ever seen. The incoming water was rushing me through the canal and would continue throughout the morning. Near the launch site is a large truck sized garbage bin where several black vultures were dining. From the dead fish smell emanating from the bin, I guessed that these birds were having some feast. Many of them were flying to and from the slash pine trees and with a bit of wind, they would perch on the bendable branches precariously. I thought they would be fun to photograph in silhouette form so I anchored near the edge of the shoreline and hung out with them as several went back and forth from the garbage to the tree. Not long after I started, it began to sprinkle, enough that I put away the camera.

It wasn't raining hard and the storm that displayed lightening earlier never amounted to much and splayed out over various parts of the sky, still dark, but not threatening. After some time, it pretty much stopped raining. I paddled down the canal to the opening of the creek that leads out to the bay eventually. The water was so high that the normally wide creek was tight. I soon noticed that the tiny mangrove crabs were at eye level with me as they attempted to keep themselves above the waterline. These mangrove crabs are fascinating, a very strange looking creature that lurks around the mangrove roots. They are extremely shy and as soon as you spot one, it quickly scuttles the opposite side of the root so that all that is showing are its tiny feet and maybe a protruding eye or two.

I continued on and thought I would find my golden silk orb weaver and maybe a crab or snail to photograph. This would not be a bird day, although I did happen upon a green heron who saw me before I saw it. The spider was in her usual spot and today, I was closer to her with the high water level. I had my anchor set up too, but this would not be an easy day for photographing in the creek. The water was rushing through and made it very difficult to set up. It didn't help matters either that the no-see-ums were thrill seeking and pretty much did what they pleased. They weren't so bad that I needed to get my bug dope out, but they did give me the itchys for awhile.

I headed out to the bay to see what I could see and check out the storm situation. It could get ugly, but then again, it might not. The nastiest looking storm was off shore but it seemed far enough to not be a problem. Boats were heading out on their usual course not minding the storms that danced all around. At the mouth of the creek, schools of bait fish were flying out of the water in the hundreds as they get chased by something large. In the meantime, Vivian was snapping up snappers left and right. Seems they head into the creeks and face the incoming water as the bait fish are pulled toward them.

Bird activity was minimal today, a few ibises were looking out over the bay from high slash pines and one brown pelican flew by following the shoreline and occasionally diving as it headed north. The gulls were flying en mass, but that's typical this time of year. Instead of heading back through the creek, we decided to paddle through the marina. We passed our usual launch site which by now was completely underwater. I paddled over to it and continued over to the road where we normally park our car to load our boats. We passed the very busy marina where 6 boats were at the docks ready to head out, having waited for the boats that were already in the channel. I got back to the bridge where a few hours earlier the water was still below the edge. Now, the concrete was covered in about 1 foot of water, a 2 foot difference.

When the water is so high, photographing is futile from my canoe. High water means strong tides and the current makes it difficult to stay in one spot. Not only that, there are no wading birds to speak of. At low tide, I have the entire area near the mouth of the creek filled with wading birds. Today, that same area was covered in about 3-4 feet of water. The moon is a powerful presence. I see it's power everytime I come to this bay.

It's officially the end of summer. Fall is here and soon, my attention and time will turn to the Everglades. I expect to get out to Biscayne a couple more times over the next month or two.

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